Following three consecutive 1-0 home wins, Blackpool were held by Leicester City in an unusual game. Two penalties and plenty of mistakes saw the match finish 2-2. Here are my thoughts…
1. Team selection and enforced change
This past week on Measured Progress, we mulled over how the addition of several attacking players in recent weeks might affect the manager’s thinking. A return to fitness for Steven Davies saw another attacking option available, but the initial team selection announced on Saturday was once more very much on the cautious side of things. Disappointing for those hoping to see a more expansive Blackpool now that the players are there, but perhaps the way Ince wants to play, particularly against the stronger sides in the Championship.
However, an illness to Neal Bishop meant he had to drop out of the warm up and the matchday squad, replaced by Stephen Dobbie in the starting XI with Tom Barkhuizen filling the empty spot on the bench. As a result Blackpool lined up as below:
Dobbie in for Bishop is unlikely to have altered the basic shape of the side too much – a fairly orthodox 4-5-1 – but Dobbie’s natural game is to go forward more often, as well as being less willing to track back compared to Bishop. Dobbie did what he has done for Blackpool in the past, picking the ball up in central areas and looking to be fairly direct and create the space for a shot with thrusting runs.
Elsewhere it was a first start for Bradley Orr, who had a rough introduction to his Bloomfield Road career. Up against the pacy Lloyd Dyer, Orr’s lack of mobility was exposed, although the presence of Tom Ince in front of him as opposed to the more defensively-minded Chris Basham was surely a contributing factor. Orr may have been more comfortable if the manager had swapped over his wide midfield players.
2. A defensive mixed bag
Away from Orr’s aforementioned troubles, it was an interesting afternoon for the Blackpool defence with both positive and negative points to pick out. Orr’s fellow full-back Jack Robinson was brought straight back into the side following suspension to replace Bob Harris, who surely cannot afford to not take his chances when he does get a start. Robinson didn’t have it all his own way either though, giving away the penalty which led to Leicester’s equaliser with a somewhat clumsy challenge.
Albeit a penalty, it was a goal that did seem to be coming with the home side allowing the Foxes a little too much time and space between the lines. On several occasions, ‘Pool were guilty of sitting too deep and being drawn in by the ball when the visitors attacked down the flanks. Blackpool’s back line (and even some of the midfield) was all too often sucked in, and when the ball was inevitably pulled back to a blue shirt, they were afforded too much space.
This was also evident in the away side’s second goal; Gary MacKenzie’s headed clearance fell to Andy King in plenty of space and he lashed home from distance as Blackpool conceded twice in three minutes. King’s finish was superb, but the tangerine shirts drawn towards their own goal gave him the space, whereas more focus may have allowed Osbourne to get close enough to block (see below).
When attacked through the middle though, Blackpool looked a lot more solid. MacKenzie and Kirk Broadfoot have built on the understanding they developed last season, with the pair keeping Jamie Vardy and David Nugent relatively quiet. The ‘Pool centre backs won the majority of their aerial battles and also closed down shots well and made a large number of important clearances. It’s now key for the Blackpool defence to work on their collective shape as they continue to integrate Robinson and the latest arrival Orr.
3. Gameplan without Fuller needs work
Despite all the concerns about his age, injury problems and a relative lack of goals in recent seasons, Ricardo Fuller has quickly established himself as the focal point of Blackpool’s forward line. A little surprising it may be, but it is a position he has earned with some strong performances.
Given the number of more defensive-minded players in the side, the quick breakaways of years gone by are a thing of the past, which makes Fuller’s hold-up play vital to give chance for the rest of the team to get up the pitch in support. Fuller even contributed an assist on the weekend with a well-flighted cross to which only Basham rose for an easy headed goal – the flat-footed Leicester defenders were left looking more than a little foolish.
However, the third match in a week took its toll on the Jamaican early in the second half. From the 50th minute Fuller was visibly struggling with a slight limp and a lack of energy. Paul Ince gave Fuller another 10 minutes beyond that, but ultimately had to make a change. Following a few weeks out injured, Davies was asked to come on and fulfil the same role, but it’s fair to say it did not work. Davies does not have the same ability with regards to holding up the ball, which resulted in possession being ceded quickly to the visiting side in the final half an hour.
Davies has drawn criticism for his substitute appearance on Saturday, and while it was disappointing, there are mitigating factors. Firstly, it was a tough situation to be thrown into following an injury lay-off, but perhaps more significantly, Davies is just a different type of player to Fuller and so expecting the same gameplan to work was perhaps a little naive.
This is where some confusion comes in with regards to the attacking players that have been signed. All appear to have different attributes, and while this is good in providing options, you then have to be flexible enough to be able to adapt your tactics on-the-fly when forwards of one type are replaced by forwards of another type. Once again, the late recruitment will have restricted the time available on the training ground to work on exactly this kind of thing, but time will tell if there is a desire to play in a different way to what we’ve seen thus far.
4. All square
It was quite a strange game on Saturday, all told. After taking the early first half lead, it seemed as if Blackpool might be on course for a fourth consecutive 1-0 home win, but the momentum shifted after half time and two quick goals from Leicester turned things around quickly, threatening to inflict back-to-back defeats on the Seasiders.
Davies was not the only Blackpool substitute to struggle though, with neither Angel Martinez nor Nathan Tyson having much of an impact in their time on the pitch. Tom Ince, often the heart of Blackpool’s attacking threat, had a rare off-day and his frustration was there for all to see when he threw his arms up in exasperation on multiple occasions. It looked as if the unbeaten home record would slip away.
Thankfully for the home side, a moment of complete brainlessness from visiting goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel presented ‘Pool with a perfect opportunity to level the scores, as he clumsily crashed into the back of MacKenzie following a long throw-in from Barry Ferguson. Ince Jr. duly dispatched the spot kick and claimed a share of the spoils for his side. The result could have been even better moments later when a wild 60-yard backpass from Jeff Schlupp sailed over Schmeichel’s head and went marginally wide.
A draw is by no means a bad result for this Blackpool team, against a Leicester City side who as always will be in and around the play-off mix-up come the end of the season. Once again, it was not a display to particularly inspire, but nonetheless a match that ‘Pool were able to take something out of. For now, it’s hard to grumble with that, but it’s clear that Paul Ince’s team is still very much a work-in-progress.